Shake hands all round, collect the money. Bemoan your own shooting, congratulate someone else on theirs. Walk to the car, assessing joints for aches beyond your usual level of tolerance, calves for the likely onset of cramp, and the whole of your body for bruises. Put the balls in the boot. Get in the car, take out your lenses and replace them with your glasses so you can better see where you’re going. Put on some music, most likely something softly introspective after all that hard running, Sandy Denny or Gene Clark, say; the Ramones were for psyching you up on the outward journey. Turn right out of the car park onto the road into the centre of the village. Take a sharp left at the first of the double roundabouts, trying not to kerb the tyres as you usually do. Pass the village hall and the social club on your right, the more unlikely pairing of the art supplies and fish and chip shops on your left, then further on, the castellated Catholic church with its white marble statue of the Virgin Mary standing on a crenellated platform. All the while, review the game in your head – what you could have done better than you did (plenty), and how you could have avoided that haze of red mist (deep breaths, and count. To. Fucking. Ten next time). Settle for longer than perhaps is healthy on your one moment of glory, a sweetly-struck shot from distance that bent into the top right-hand corner of the goal. Mentally opine that even Paul Scholes might have proud of that one.
Go over the bridge that crosses the dual carriageway, looking to the left and into the far distance for the progress of the setting sun, incidentally taking in how thick the traffic is on the road to which you have lost more hours of your life than you would like. Slow for the right turn which takes you into the narrow lanes of the cross-country way home – what your daughter used to call ‘the den-y way’. Now you are into the thick of greenery which rises from each side of the road like a wall, until a grassy meadow opens out on the left-hand side. It’s dotted with trees, and at times during the year, cows. Through it runs a stream, swift and shallow and gurgling. Stream and road meet at the bare minimum of a stone bridge, where once, before Tarmacadam, there would have been a ford. Look to your left here, to take in that gurgling stream, and the way it leads the eye through the trees and into the meadow, suggesting summer picnics, or at least that you stop and lie in the bosom of its long grass and soft turf to daydream for a while.
Just after the bridge, pass a couple walking their two dogs – whippets, by the look of them. The woman has auburn hair; the man’s sandy wisps inevitably seem somewhat nondescript in comparison. Slow, so as to be ready for any sudden movement of the dogs. Let the couple linger in your mind as you drive on, imagining the life they might lead together. The road bends this way and that, following the course of the stream, so do not go above 30 mph in case you need to brake suddenly, either for cars coming the other way, or – unusually – for frogs, since on this stretch of road, there is the only red-bordered triangular caution sign for amphibians that you have ever come across. But you have never spotted nor knowingly squashed one.
Slow down again to pass the narrow house which sits alone on its own triangular island in the middle of a junction, and keep at the same speed for the row of houses whose doors open out onto the narrow road. Watch for the white cowls of a pair of oast houses over the top of the hedge on the right, before entering the first of the high-banked ancient holloways. Notice again how the roots of the beech trees break out of the bank much as reanimated skeletons might out of the rotting wood of coffins, and how their ivy-covered limbs rise close together to create the sense of enclosure; shelter or captivity depending on your mood.
Emerge from the darkness to pass the beautiful farmhouse, the stream acting as its moat. Where the way forks, keep high and right as the other alternative drops away to the left, the wending river visible between the two roads. Feel the motion and blur of glinting water and sun-dappled greenery hit your retinas. Imagine how many millions of individual leaves you are passing, and let the cow parsley which crowds the verges take you back to cycling the country roads of your childhood.
Pass the entrance to a larger working farm on your right. A little further along, a bungalow stands on the left-hand side, with pasture for horses opposite. Then once again it’s back into holloway darkness, the old way-turned-road running roughly straight, but veering and weaving as once the trees will have dictated that countless generations of walkers and riders should. Walkers and riders who had a purpose to their walking and riding.
And now here again the road emerges from the enclosing trees; over the top of a five bar gate, the sky opens out above the fields like a fanfare or a crescendo. Slow to take in the colours of the sunset, and if they are at all out of the ordinary, stop to take a photo. See the disturbed rabbits scamper away as you get out of the car. Sheep are grazing in the field; all but the closest to you pay you no mind. Climb a couple of rungs of the gate and brace yourself against it. Depress the touch-screen button on your phone and hope that you’ve caught even half of the sky’s resplendence.
Drive on, continuing straight for a few hundred metres, then remember to slow for the hidden-from-view right turn; it’s easy to overshoot. After the farm on the left, it’s time to enter the deepest, darkest, sleepiest sleepy hollow of holloway, where you hope not to encounter a car coming the other way, for after a moment of face-off, one of you will be forced to back up, often for some distance before being able to reverse-sidle into a passing place dug out of the banked earth. Startled birds break cover and dart from one side of the hollow to the other, too quick to distinguish their species, and always making the other side before the car passes. On the canopied tunnel goes, a ridge of hardened mud formed during the winter lining the centre of the road, until coming to a sharp left-hand bend, you must necessarily slow to nothing much at all; once around it, accelerate to compensate for the rising plane of the road. At the top of the rise, a driveway opens out on the left; the entrance to the grounds of a nursing home. The break in the trees allows you a quick glance at the view that the residents enjoy at their leisure, across the gentle slopes of the valley through which runs the little stream you were following earlier. It’s an archetypally glorious green and pleasant view and invariably when you catch a glimpse of it, you remember the time you ignored the ‘PRIVATE’ signs, turned in and parked up to try and surreptitiously capture it, though in your hurry you did not manage to do the view justice.
Now it’s the downhill run, your car a bobsleigh through the ice of the close-pressing trees. If the way is clear, it’s hard to avoid the temptation to take it a little faster than you ought, the ghost of Marc Bolan always a caution at your shoulder. At other times of day, it has to be taken slowly, for invariably then you will meet and need to stop for horses, their stables marking the end of the bobsleigh run. At which point, a left turn would take you past the stately pile where a classic rock song and its host album were recorded, but you swing slowly round the blind corner to the right and begin to make a slight ascent, taking care to avoid losing your front left-hand wheel to the worst pothole in the whole of the county, if not the country. Now there’s another downhill run, but this time of two cars’ width, so you can take it at greater speed than the rest of the journey has allowed. Pass the wooden chalet-style house with its summer evening porch, and the driveways leading up the hillside to what you imagine may well be similar woodland-style lodges. Slow for the junction by what in winter is a dank, murky, uninviting swamp of a pond, but which in the last of the light on a summer’s day is transformed into a haven of burnished reeds and a fitting home for a pair of swans. Turn right onto the main road, and accelerate into another ascent, notable less for its housing and more for the beautiful copper beech which gives the road its name. Try as you might not to set off the electronic speed limit reprimand, despite the incline, you will most likely fail.
Turn right at the mini-roundabout by which the garage stands and from which the one-stop shop is visible, and drive along the straight perimeter of the enclave of roads in which your house is set till you get to the pair of bus stops, one on either side of the road; signal right. Turn the right-angle right, and head down the dip, at the bottom of which is another right-angle right into your short, narrow road. No need to signal here at this time of night. Drive slowly up its crest to the end, park up under the shade of the sweet chestnut and oak trees, and turn off the engine. Wait for whichever song of Sandy’s or Gene’s is playing to end, and allow its associations to settle back into the sediment of your mind. Gather yourself and your bag together. Open and close the wrought-iron gate, taking the key to the front door from your bag. The lights are on and you are home.